Myth Three: We just need to secure the borders first, then we can talk about immigration reform and a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers.
If the goal of the conservative movement is to reduce the amount of illegal immigrants coming into our country in a cost-efficient manner, then an enforcement-only strategy is doomed to failure. I can say it no better than Gordon H. Hanson, director of the Center on Pacific Economies and a professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego. Hanson also has written a recent book for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Regulating Low Skilled Immigrants in the United States. According to Hanson,
The second point I’d like to address in Steve’s comments is on the costs of enforcing immigration law. In my analysis, I assume that it would take a doubling of the enforcement budget (currently at around $16 billion) to reduce illegal immigration to zero. Steve complains that the enforcement budget includes things like customs that are unrelated to illegal immigration. True. However, the point is that eliminating illegal immigration through expanding enforcement, at least under current strategies, is likely to be very expensive, which I use to argue that an enforcement-only approach fails a cost-benefit test. Consider U.S. enforcement efforts since 2005. The Border Patrol has nearly doubled the number of officers in the field from 11,000 to 20,000. What did the enforcement buildup yield? An increase in the price that smugglers charge to illegal immigrants of around 30 percent. Raising smugglers’ prices is in part how the Border Patrol deters illegal immigration. The extra cost of crossing the border from the recent border buildup is around $1,000, an amount that an illegal immigrant could recoup in the United States in about a month (assuming that he earns $8 an hour there and $3.20 in Mexico, after adjusting for differences in the cost of living—recent research by the World Bank suggests that the U.S. cost-of-living-adjusted hourly wage is 2.5 times that in Mexico for the typical young Mexican male migrant). Thus, in the last five years we’ve doubled the personnel cost of the Border Patrol but only made a small dent in the incentive to migrate to the United States. Under current enforcement strategies, it is not unreasonable to think that we would have to do much more than double enforcement spending to drive illegal immigration to zero, which is why I suggest that an enforcement-only strategy is costly. (Of course, one retort is that we should change current enforcement strategies. Point taken. But if better strategies are available, why hasn’t Congress funded them?)My point in posting this series about immigration is that an 'enforcement-only' strategy is not a conservative strategy. If we want to reduce illegal immigration while shrinking the deficit and curbing government spending then we need to pursue comprehensive immigration reform. Let's modestly increase the budgets for ICE and Customs and Border Protection. But, more importantly, let's reform the current system so that immigrants have a legitimate opportunity of coming legally. Right now they don't. Illegal immigration will never shrink (short of spending $50 billion a year) so long as potential immigrants don't have an incentive to do things the right way.
An enforcement-only strategy may seem effective to feed the populist anger of conservative voters, but it is not an effective strategy in the real world.
More to come...
Cross posted at The Cross Culturalist